Last day of Para Awareness Week and a plea from customers

Blog from Kyle Humphrey

Freedom.

It means different things to different people, but essentially it means the ability to make choices for oneself without the permission of another. For example: Deciding to go to the grocery store and grab something for dinner that night, deciding to visit a friend who is having a hard time, deciding to go to the hospital and get a nagging issue checked on. All of these things sound pretty simple, don’t they?

Well what if you didn’t have the luxury of a car? What if you were only able to take a bus? What if that bus only allowed you four round trips per day? What if you needed help getting dressed and had to schedule someone to help you, then needed to book your bus after that? What if you had a compromised immune system and were forced to sit next to someone on your bus instead of taking the next one?

What if you knew a loved one had to face these issues?

Well, if you’re from Ottawa and reading this… chances are someone you love has gone through this before, chances are they’ve gone through it many times. There are thousands of people that rely on a broken service called Para Transpo to get them out of the house and to their appointments, be it social, medical, or otherwise. A system that has had countless advocates speak out for years to hopefully bring about better service to patrons, but to no avail.

Just before the pandemic you could find any number of city councillors fighting for a better LRT service for their constituents, and yet Para Transpo had nobody speaking up for them. It took multiple pleas to the media, and local radio stations finally covering important topics for Ottawa Transit Commission to finally step up and agree to start looking at options for an online booking system that had been a plea from Para Transpo users for years.

Well after ten years of advocacy, customers finally have an online booking system.

That's good, but it could be better. What is needed is a booking application that allows the user to go on and book their bus, see their booking in physical form, book more than 4 round trips in a day, book the same day in the case of an actual social life or emergency doctor’s appointment, or maybe even a job if the flawed bus system allows them to hold stable employment.

Sound familiar? It's a lot like Uber.

It’s not a huge ask, is it?

 

I leave you with this,

If you found yourself waking up one day to a world that didn’t seem to understand the issues you go through or want to make the necessary changes, what would you do? 

 

Well, this is my plea to you on behalf of the many users of Para Transpo,

Please ask your city councillor to support us in this quest for a better, more equitable bus system.

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Results of survey of Para customers

As part of Para Awareness Week 2021, we asked customers of Para Transpo to answer a short survey. Here are the results.

First we asked: Do you feel that ParaTranspo has been taking adequate precautions to protect Para customers and staff from COVID? 

About half (51%) answered “no” to this question.

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Question one: Do you feel that ParaTranspo has been taking adequate precautions to protect Para customers and staff from COVID? 
There is a pie chart with two halves - one says 51% of respondents answered “no”; 48% answered “yes”.

 

Next we asked, If not, what concerns do you have?

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Question two:  If not, what concerns do you have?
There is a bar graph with five vertical bars. The top bar indicates that 54% of respondents chose the answer “operators not wearing masks or wearing masks inappropriately”
The next bar indicates that 50% of respondents chose “use of taxis instead of Para buses”
The next bar indicates that 45% of respondents chose “overcrowding in Para buses”
The next bar indicates that 31% of respondents were willing to add “other” (see below)
The final bar indicates that 22% of respondents chose “too much face-to-face time with operators such as when they have to write down numbers for payment”
NOTE that respondents could choose multiple options so answers do not add up to 100%

 

Some respondents wrote in additional concerns:

  • Interactions between drivers of Para Transpo and OC Transpo drivers; there shouldn't be any cross action between OC drivers and para transpo drivers right now
  • Vaccinate the drivers/operators
  • Bus/taxi cleanliness
  • Lack of cleaning of stuff like shoulder belts
  • Bus is always dirty
  • At one point during the pandemic no distancing at all. Shared the backseat of a taxi with two others. This has since been rectified thankfully

 

We are curious, what would customers of Para Transpo do more of if service improves?

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Question three: If Para Transpo services were improved, what would you do more of?
Here is another bar graph with six vertical bars.
The top bar indicates that 58% of respondents chose “social life and visit friends and family more”
The next bar indicates that 50% of respondents would choose “visit a wider range of locations, like parks (Gatineau)”
The next bar indicates that 33% of respondents would choose “more exercise”
The next bar indicates that 20% are willing to write in further responses (see below)
The next bar indicates that 16% would choose “employment”
The final bar indicates that 16% would choose “school/education”
NOTE that respondents could choose multiple options so answers do not add up to 100%

Some people wrote that they would do other things: 

  • Pick up my medication go to the laundromat get my own groceries pick up some already made food that I just need to have microwave for free
  • There would be so many opportunities that open up. I’d love to do more things on the spur of the moment.
  • Non-urgent medical appointments like getting blood tests or x-rays
  • Not take my electric wheelchair over 5 hours in one day just to get to and from an appointment yes totally by electric wheelchair to and from an appointment more than across the downtown core

 

We wanted to end the survey on a positive note so we asked people “If Para Transpo received a significant, permanent increase in its budget, what would you like them to spend the money on to improve service? (What should their priorities be?)”

 

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Question four: If Para Transpo received a significant, permanent increase in its budget, what would you like them to spend the money on to improve service? (What should their priorities be?)
Here is a chart of seven stacked columns.
The first one asks about “expanding hours” - 13 respondents indicated it was VERY important, 4 said “somewhat important” and 1 said “not a priority”
The second column asks about “expanding where customers can take ParaTranspo” - 13 respondents indicated it was VERY important, 7 said “somewhat important” and 1 said “not a priority”
The third column asks about “buying new buses” - 11 respondents indicated it was VERY important, 7 said “somewhat important” and no-one said “not a priority”
The fourth column asks about “hiring more staff” - 11 respondents indicated it was VERY important, 5 said “somewhat important” and no-one said “not a priority”
The fifth column asks about “improving technology” - 10 respondents indicated it was VERY important, 6 said “somewhat important” and no-one said “not a priority”
The sixth column asks about “reducing fares” - 7 respondents indicated it was VERY important, 8 said “somewhat important” and 2 said “not a priority”
The last column asks about “more comfortable buses” - 3 respondents indicated it was VERY important, 8 said “somewhat important” and 7 said “not a priority”

 

This survey gives a quick overview of what customers of Para Transpo are worried about (COVID and cleanliness of the buses) and what priorities they would like to see in the future.

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John Redins has something to say ...

Day four of #ParaAwarenessWeek2021. Here is an interview with John Redins, a board member of the Ottawa Transit Riders since the founding meeting. He advocates on a number of issues, besides accessible transit and he wants to remind drivers to give space to ParaTranspo buses. Don’t park in accessible spots – even for a short while.

What have you learned so far this week? Did you know that Para customers fought for ten years to get online booking? But they are still fighting for same-day booking and longer hours of service.

Take a listen to John: https://youtu.be/ICs_dj29-FU

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Interview with Mary Jane

On day three of Para Awareness Week, here is an interview with Mary Jane Clinkard who rides Para Transpo. She advocates not only for accessible transit, but also for access to fitness services, especially swimming facilities for people with disabilities.

Listen to her story here: https://youtu.be/i_43TZUeZxM

 

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Interview with Sally Thomas

As part of Para Awareness Week 2021, we have conducted interviews with a few people who use Para Transpo. Here is a short video with Sally Thomas, a board member of the Ottawa Transit Riders and an active member of the #ParaParity campaign.

Click on link: https://youtu.be/p99LLGM1kqk

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Sally Thomas talking about Para and COVID

How well is Para Transpo protecting people from COVID?

By Sally Thomas

 

So, we are about 400 days into this global pandemic and I cannot help but feel like OC Transpo has more work to do to provide clear direction for folks using the bus as far as social distancing goes. There are definitely things about these safety measures that OC Transpo is doing well at; but one thing I feel still needs work is how we can best maintain social distancing measures on a bus. For a while people were not even permitted to board the front of the conventional bus unless they were using a mobility device or a stroller. That has now changed and anyone can board the front, if the driver will open the door. That is what is happening on the conventional…and I get it. Drivers are OC Transpo’s biggest asset and they have to do everything they can to protect them.

What I don’t understand and am becoming increasingly frustrated by is OC Transpo’s lack of attention to the well-being of both the drivers and users of Para Transpo. There are fewer people involved on the Para side; but Para Transp is still part of the OC Transpo transit system and deserves the same level of care. I’d like to see social distancing measures adhered to on Para too. That means that drivers should be picking up only one person requiring the front tie-down positions, even though there is space for two. On two different occasions this past week, drivers asked to put two of us in the front positions. When that happens, we can literally reach out and touch each other. Definitely not six feet! In the first instance, I got lucky. Another bus showed up and I convinced the driver to ask dispatch to make the change. In the second instance, I was the first passenger to board; but discovered we were picking up two more people on the way to my destination. Cases are climbing again here and I told the driver I wasn’t comfortable sitting that close to another wheelchair user I didn’t know. Again, he contacted dispatch and this time I was taken straight home before he went back for the other passengers. I’ve asked for OC Transpo’s stance on this and am awaiting a response. In the meantime, I am not taking any chances. Unless and until protocol dictates one user in the front tie-down at a time, I will be refusing rides.

I look forward to the day when leadership at OC Transpo recognizes Para Transpo as an equitable and equally important transit system and applies a similar level of resources to both.

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Interview with Kyle Humphrey

What is Para Awareness Week? It’s a campaign to get people talking about Para Transpo - why it is important, and what needs to improve. We are talking to people who may not know much about Para Transpo.

Here is a short interview with Kyle Humphrey, founder of “No Such Thing as Can’t” and member of the #ParaParity campaign.

Click to watch the video: https://youtu.be/SmphRx23qGs

 

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Para Awareness Week - day one

Why is Para Transpo important?

By Kyle Humphrey (No Such Thing as Can't) #ParaParity campaign

Imagine if you will, you’ve been out of work because of the pandemic, a prospective employer calls you one morning and asks to see you the next day. So you jump on a bus, take it to the LRT, and then grab a bus from wherever you need. It takes you about an hour. Your first bus was late, but things still worked out.

Now imagine you use a wheelchair and the same manager calls you. There’s snow on the ground a foot high, the cars have made little hills of snow that have frozen over. Thankfully in Ottawa there’s a service that exists that can pick someone up at one place, and drop them off at another for the same price as conventional transit. 

Need to get to work? It can get you there.
Need to grab groceries? It can get you there too.
Have an appointment? It can be useful in getting you there.
Have plans with friends? The service can help.

Anything you can do on conventional transit is what you should be able to do, yes, even if you have mobility difficulties.

However,

Need to get to work? It can get you there (As long as you give lots of notice, last minute shifts not accommodated).
Need to grab groceries? It can get you there too. (As long as you plan in advance, no last minute trips to pick up something you forgot)
Have an appointment? It can be useful in getting you there. (As long as you don’t need same-day service)
Have plans with friends? The service can help. (Unless you want to travel with them, or go somewhere spontaneously, or stay out later than planned).

Para Transpo can be better, and our goal is to help the city and OC Transpo company to better serve constituents in the city of Ottawa!
Right now with Para Transpo, clients must pre-book their bus a day in advance, starting at 7am the morning before, for a trip between 6am and 12am; that means no post-COVID partying until 2am for Para Transpo users. 

There is no same-day option for booking, so there’s no jumping on a bus like your friends who have the option to use OC’s conventional transit. There is no option to tell the bus you want to “catch the next one.” There is no option to take the bus with your group of friends.
Your manager won’t be able to rely on you for same-day shifts. Your doctor won’t be able to fit you in for same-day appointments… among so many other issues that Para Transpo customers face.

It’s these things that make this service less equitable than its sister service. Sure, you’re picked up at a destination of your choosing… but if you have to give up all of the described social freedoms to use the service, it sends the idea that people who require accessible transit aren’t to be afforded equitable transit

Please stand with us in telling your city councillor that Para Transpo affects us all in one way or another, no matter if you’re a manager counting on your employee, a friend trying to be supportive, or someone fighting for social justice who found out the city called an emergency Transit Council meeting for the next morning at 9am.

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Survey for customers of ParaTranspo

Do you use ParaTranspo services in Ottawa? In preparation for ParaAwareness week (April 26th to 30th, 2021), we are asking people who use ParaTranspo to take this short (four-question) survey about COVID precautions, what accessible transit means for you, and what OC Transpo’s priorities for Para should be.

Para Survey

Your feedback will inform the ParaParity campaign in our efforts to improve accessible transit in Ottawa.

 

Utilisez-vous les services de ParaTranspo à Ottawa ? En préparation de la semaine de sensibilisation à ParaAwareness (du 26 au 30 avril 2021), nous demandons aux personnes qui utilisent ParaTranspo de répondre à ce court sondage (quatre questions) sur les précautions prises par COVID, ce que signifie pour vous le transport accessible et quelles devraient être les priorités d'OC Transpo pour Para.

Para Survey

Vos commentaires éclaireront la campagne ParaParité dans nos efforts pour améliorer l'accessibilité du transport en commun à Ottawa.

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With No Emergency Operational Funding for Public Transit, the 2021 Federal Budget Leaves Riders Stranded

 OTTAWA - Ottawa Transit Riders expressed their disappointment that the 2021 Federal Budget announced no new emergency operational funding for public transit. With the previous round of federal funding having expired at the end of March, public transit agencies like OC Transpo may be forced to make drastic service cuts.

Public transit agencies across Canada are all facing significant financial pressures due to the drop in ridership and lack of fare revenue. Recently, OC Transpo has suspended routes and reduced services in an effort to reduce costs. Without further emergency operational funding from the federal government, OC Transpo will be forced to make further reductions.

“Throughout this pandemic, public transit has been a lifeline for essential workers, seniors, people with disabilities, and newcomers who need access to reliable and accessible transit to get to work or medical appointments,” said Stuart MacKay, a Board Member of Ottawa Transit Riders. “Without further emergency operational funding, transit agencies like OC Transpo will be forced to cut back on services. This will hurt riders and our most marginalized citizens.”  

Ottawa Transit Riders is a proud member of the Keep Transit Moving Coalition, a nationwide alliance of public transit advocacy groups. Last week, the Keep Transit Moving Coalition sent a letter to the Finance Minister asking her to extend emergency transit funding that they had committed earlier last year. Sixty organizations including large unions like CUPE, UNIFOR and PSAC and environmental organizations like the David Suzuki Foundation signed the letter, displaying large support across sectors. Further, a poll done with EKOS Research showed that over 70% of Canadians supported extending emergency transit operational funding.

For more information, please contact [email protected] 

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